WOW! You have a heart

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Sometimes a company goes above and beyond what we think is a fair resolution to a consumer’s request. Andrew Tressler’s case is an example of this largess, and I am happy to report how WOW Air recently handled his situation.

Question: I was recently diagnosed with a gastrointestinal stromal tumor and will be having a Whipple procedure (which includes a surgical oncologists cutting me open and removing a quarter of my pancreas, a portion of my stomach, my gallbladder, and all of my duodenum) done in May. The recovery time for this is a minimum of six weeks, which is why I’m reaching out to you.

I have been planning a trip to Iceland with my wife. We were supposed to fly out in June. We did not buy travel insurance and upon reaching out to WOW, I found no empathy or help. We were told we would get the taxes returned if we wanted to cancel or it would cost $400 per ticket to change travel dates.

I know they are a budget airline and have to get their money where they can, but this experience is abhorrent and I feel like I’m being shaken down. I would love some advice in dealing with Wow and their ridiculous policies. Andrew Tressler, Lynchburg, Va.

Answer: When I first read your case, I was about to send you a reply to explain why we, regrettably, could not help you. Asking an airline to override their policies and bend to our suggestions is not what we do.

When you purchase an airline ticket and plan a vacation you have the option to protect your investment by also buying a trip insurance policy. This was an option that you did not take. And for that reason WOW Air was accessing a heavy change fee to your tickets.

But since I have a close friend who has your same condition, your story touched me. She had the surgery that you are about to have, and I remember the lengthy recovery period. So I decided to take your case and see if something could be done to alleviate the stress in at least this area of your life.

Unfortunately, these “ridiculous policies” that you refer to are part of every airline’s contract of carriage. They aren’t something that WOW Air invented especially for you. Nonrefundable tickets always carry a hefty change fee — and some can’t be changed at all.

When you buy these bargain-basement tickets, you are taking a risk that the low cost of the nonrefundable ticket outweighs the risk of losing part or all of the value if you must modify or cancel your plans.

Taking a look at WOW Air’s Changes to Booking Chart, I noted that modifying your current reservation would cost close to $400. But in order to do this, you also need to have new travel dates, something that you can’t determine at this moment because of your upcoming surgery.

You asked that WOW take into consideration your current ambiguous travel plans and waive any change fees on your tickets. It declined your request and pointed out that travel insurance would have protected you in this case.

While that is certainly true and something I think you now know, it was not the compassionate answer that you were hoping for.

I contacted WOW on your behalf. I did not ask for a favor or directly ask for special consideration in my inquiry. I simply conveyed your story with your request and left an open-ended question: Is there anything that WOW could do to assist you?

The good news for you came quickly: Yes.

And your story must have touched someone at WOW, as well. Because it not only waived your change fees but also offered you an unlimited time period to use your credit with WOW. This is highly unusual because, as we frequently point out to consumers, credits with airlines almost always expire one year from the date of original purchase.

In WOW’s response to me, the airline did reiterate that you should have purchased travel insurance. But it also said, “We understand how unusual this situation is and we really want to help Mr. Tressler.”

And with that, you got the compassionate response that you had hoped to receive.

You told me that you are “ecstatic” with this resolution. We are pleased, too. And you asked us to share your story so that others can learn from your mistake and also to give WOW the positive attention that it deserves in this case.

We wish you a speedy recovery, and hope that you and your wife are able to enjoy Iceland in the near future.

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